On the floor of my liberal arts dorm room sits a tan box detailed with visual allusion to its caricatured subtitle. An Ancient Game of Oriental Strategy. In the west, Go is sometimes marketed as an East-Asian Chess, flavored exotically so we don't get embarrassed for not recognizing it. In the intersecting fields of Artificial Intelligence and board games, Go has been particularly notorious for its unsolveability - Go has approximately 2.08×10^170 legal positions, compared to the roughly 10^40 legal positions in chess. That's just the tip of the iceberg, there's an awful lot more justice I can't give on the computational and mathematical implications of the 2500 year old board game, which is actually nothing like Chess.
Recently, a Google company created an artificial intelligence with deep neural networks to beat the European Go Champion every single time in a 5-game match. I'm having a lot of trouble finding out approximately how much solving this problem cost the corporation, but I doubt it was much.
So in lieu of a better segue, I'm going to talk about what I actually made the title about. The Washington Post article describes neural networks, in the long term able to "be applied to society’s most challenging problems" like medical diagnoses and modeling the climate. But in the short term? "they’re looking to integrate the work into smartphones assistants". Yeah, we invented something groundbreaking in the field of artificial intelligence and it's gonna be the next Siri.
I'm sure you've felt the dissonance around how the next big thing in Silicon Valley somehow has the ability to radically transform human experience and elevate us into dreamy transhuman utopia, even though right now it's a social networking platform or expensive glasses that concern privacy advocates. That it only takes one or two more hard pivots and that ride sharing app with questionable business practices will end poverty. Let's just forget about jobs under minimum wage and workers' strikes for a moment while we appreciate the ever-uplifting machinery of human virtue that is consumer technology.
I doubt I'm saying anything new here, but I just want to focus for a moment on what it means when Google could solve some pressing, contemporary issue. It means that they both recognize the legitimacy of that issue and its need to be resolved, and that it's not something they have any sort of plan to accomplish, as if the issue can't really be fixed until it brings a profit, and intends to remain in stasis until it can. It could also mean that they don't really care about the suffering of real people thanks to these issues and are throwing a bone to the ones who pretend to care a little more.
One might argue for some of the Great Things(tm) tech giants are up to, like Free Basics, and I can't pragmatically say that giving internet free of cost to those who didn't have it before is a bad thing. It's disappointing, though not terribly surprising, that the first thing they did with it was create a walled garden without net neutrality, and critics like the EFF are justified in their concerns about Free Basics. But this doesn't change the fact that Facebook is a business, and as a business we can't count on Facebook to do anything but make the most profitable decisions.
Whether or not some new project from major tech corporations honors the code of conduct laid out by interest groups and (hopefully) governments misses the foundational issues present when it's major corporations and businesses (read: colonizers) building that infrastructure in the first place. As consumers, changing the rules that govern their profit margins won't change the game we're stuck playing, and it won't change the misdirection of scientific progress.
The sedative of utopic science fiction keeps us submissive to corporate exploit, a narrative generated in the synthetic environment of unrelenting capitalism in shades of blue and silicon. Personalities emerge in this space to play at its maintenance, a culture that persists in spite of its "disruption". Under the illusion, returns accelerate faster than central authority can regulate them, so specifically central authorities should obviously be given unrestricted ability to develop their affairs, if for nothing else than that shared hallucination we're privileged to indulge.
Except that indulgence is on the backs of labor quite literally starving to sustain the exploits of an abusive industry. Not only have we become unwitting patrons to a colonial reach into the 21st century, but we've been individually colonized, left with the collective sentiment that we deserve something better.